Immigrants are people who live in a country other than the one in which they were born. They are the source of much political, economic and cultural debate in many countries. In the United States, immigration has contributed to its growth and vitality, and it continues to shape the country demographically, economically and socially.
Whether legal or not, immigrants add to the economy by purchasing goods and services and by paying taxes. They also contribute to the culture of a country through their family and social connections, and they create a diversity that enriches the nation. In addition, they help to bolster the national birth rate, which is currently low and can contribute to reduced labor force participation, a lower demand for certain industries (such as housing), and weaker consumer spending.
International migration has been central to the development of modern societies, and it is a critical factor in most current discussions of globalization and integration. Although migration has been a part of human history for centuries, it is only recently that it has become the focus of so much public attention.
In the modern sense of the word, immigration refers to the movement of people across borders for the purpose of settling in a new place. The 44.9 million immigrants living in the United States today comprise about one-sixth of the world’s international migrants. They come from more than a hundred different countries, and they speak an enormous variety of languages.
Although the country has had its ups and downs in terms of its attitude toward immigration, the U.S. continues to be a magnet for migrants from around the world. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act allows immigrants to settle in the United States through three primary streams: family-based (re)unification, employment-based (green card) pathways and humanitarian protection, such as refugees and those admitted under a lottery program known as the Diversity Visa.
Traditionally, the majority of immigrants have been from Europe, Canada or other North American countries. But since 2007, the number of unauthorized immigrants has grown, and its composition has shifted. The share of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico has dropped significantly, while those from Asian countries such as India and China have increased, and the numbers of asylum seekers have grown, especially from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Because the influx of migrants has had such a profound impact on the United States, it is important to understand what they do and why they do it. While there are many myths about the effects of immigrants on their host communities, most Americans have a positive view of immigration and understand its importance to the nation. However, a significant portion of the public remains skeptical about the impact of immigrants and is concerned that the federal government has given itself too much power to turn people back at the border. This has contributed to a legacy of cruel and inhumane treatment of people trying to seek refuge from violence or poverty.